AUGUSTA, Kan. — Mill Valley’s Katie Schwartzkopf set the tone for the day for the individual champions.
The senior, who never finished worst than second at state in her career, left the competition in the dust early Saturday in Class 5A’s girls 5K race at the 4 Mile Creek Resort.
She sprinted across the finish line, winning the 2021 championship in a time of 17:51.8. Her time was more than a minute faster than last year, when she finished runner-up for the second-straight year.
“I have built a much better relationship with running, and I definitely think I’ve become stronger in that aspect,” Schwartzkopf said. “I think it also being my senior season and I had only one more chance left, I had a lot more motivation and work ethic.”
Mill Valley coach Chris McAfee said Schwartzkopf’s mentality this season has been the difference, and it’s what has made him the most proud.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the way she has grown into accepting her role as being one of the top runners in the state,” McAfee said. “Her confidence has come up a ton. Regardless of the outcome today, I think more than anything, we’re most happy for her accepting that role. She is awesome and really good.”
The victory was extra sweet for Schwartzkopf. It was her second individual state title. Her other victory came as a freshman in Class 6A.
She also ended her career with three team state titles. The last one came Saturday as the Jaguars won a tight 5A team race over St. Thomas Aquinas.
“When I crossed the finish line, that was exciting, but it just doesn’t feel real until you hear your whole team won, because having people to celebrate with and that camaraderie aspect makes it all worth it,” Schwartzkopf said.
Schwartzkopf took the lead early in the race and never looked back. Through the first portion of the race, she was pacing her teammate, Mill Valley freshman Charlotte Caldwell, and Piper junior Grace Hanson.
After about a mile, Schwartzkopf began to separate from Hanson and Caldwell. She continued to do so for the next two miles before winning the race by 42 seconds.
“I wanted to go out with that Piper girl, who’s amazing, and I just knew I needed to be the tougher runner today and pick a spot to just go,” Schwartzkopf said. “Once I committed to taking that lead, I had to commit to it and not worry about the end.”
Hanson has now finished in the top six at state three times. She was sixth last year after placing second as a freshman. Next year, she will be the top returning runner from state.
But, she might have another Jaguar to deal with. Caldwell finished 14 seconds behind Hanson in third place. Caldwell’s race impressed her senior teammate.
“She’s just a freshman and I’m so excited for her,” Schwartzkopf said of Caldwell.
St. Thomas Aquinas’ Mareike Krebs and Bishop Carroll’s Hope Jackson, who won the past two state titles, rounded out the top five. The remaining top 10 runners were Seaman’s Bethany Druse (6), De Soto’s Sophia Landrum (7), Blue Valley Southwest’s Isabella Ross (8), Maize’s Zoie Ecord (9) and Emporia’s Elizabeth Willhite (10).
– Story by Jimmy Gillispie